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Awl Case

Arts of the Americas

The articles in this case and the adjacent clothing case [see 50.67.6] are some of the earliest and finest Eastern Plains pieces in existence. They were collected by Dr. Nathan Sturges Jarvis, a military surgeon stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, between 1833 and 1836. Most items were made by the Eastern and Middle Dakota (Sioux) or by the peoples of the Red River region, including the Red River Métis, Anishinabe, Plains Cree, and Salteaux. Some of the objects were purchased by Jarvis, and others may have been given to him in exchange for his medical services.

By the early nineteenth century, the growing numbers of white settlers and military personnel—following decades of fur trading—had depleted much of the game on which the Dakota and Red River peoples depended. Indigenous ingenuity in combining trade materials such as cloth, metal, and glass beads with traditional hides, pipestone, and porcupine and bird quills is evident in these objects.
MEDIUM Hide, beads
DATES early 19th century
DIMENSIONS 11 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (28.6 x 7 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
CREDIT LINE Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund
PROVENANCE Prior to 1848, provenance not yet documented; by 1848, acquired by Nathan Sturges Jarvis; 1848, gift of Nathan Sturges Jarvis to the New-York Historical Society, New York, NY; 1937, loaned by the New-York Historical Society to the Brooklyn Museum; 1950, purchased from the New-York Historical Society by the Brooklyn Museum.
Provenance FAQ
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Awl case wrapped with primarily blue and red beads. Central and Northern Plains Sioux people made awl cases by winding or wrapping beads around a tubular shaft, made originally of rawhide and later sometimes of cardboard. Few cases in collections have bone or steel awls in them. Some have pointed wooden sticks, which may have been used as hair-part painters. Depending on size, and evidence of paint remains, some of these may be paint stick holders. These cases were hung on women's belts long after the use of the awl had diminished a vestigial representation of women’s traditional gear and traditional role. The small, faceted dark red translucent tube beads were very popular in the 1830-1870 period. The use of the Cornaline d’Aleppo beads, red with a yellow interior, makes this piece especially fine. Great as household object. The white beads are unusual.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Plains (Northern). Awl Case, early 19th century. Hide, beads, 11 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (28.6 x 7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.36. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 50.67.36_PS11.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 50.67.36_PS11.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2020
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Plains (Northern). <em>Awl Case</em>, early 19th century. Hide, beads, 11 1/4 x 2 3/4 in. (28.6 x 7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.36. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 50.67.36_PS11.jpg)